Trial begins for 12 plane spotters accused of spying

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The Independent Online

The trial began yesterday of 12 British plane spotters accused of spying in Greece. The hearing was adjourned after only 10 minutes after the swearing-in of two witnesses due to give evidence for the prosecution.

The trial began yesterday of 12 British plane spotters accused of spying in Greece. The hearing was adjourned after only 10 minutes after the swearing-in of two witnesses due to give evidence for the prosecution.

The witnesses were two Greek air force officers from the air base near Kalamata, southern Greece, where the group was arrested in November.

The 12 were held in prison for almost six weeks. They face prison sentences of up to five years or a hefty fine if convicted. They all deny espionage, insisting they are plane spotters and not spies.

They were originally charged with gathering secret information to pass on to an enemy of Greece, which carried a maximum prison sentence of 25 years, but that was later reduced to a lesser "misdemeanour" offence.

The defence team will argue that the secret information they were accused of gathering is freely available in books and on the internet and will call expert witnesses from the aviation and legal worlds. One of the air bases they were alleged to have spied on features as a backdrop to a popular Greek soap opera.

Defence lawyers will need to explain the group's fascination with plane spotting because it is not a widely recognised hobby in Greece and their actions attracted suspicion.

The group spent £650 each on the trip, which was meant to last one week. Many of them have gone into debt since their arrest because they had to pay more than £9,000 each in bail and their legal bills are more than £3,000 each. The case is expected to finish today or tomorrow.

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